O-line issues muddle race between Brett Hundley, DeShone Kizer

GREEN BAY, Wis. -- The Green Bay Packers still have to decide whether Brett Hundley or DeShone Kizer would play if something happened to Aaron Rodgers. They also have to figure out how Rodgers could stay healthy if something happened to any of his starting offensive linemen.

Part of the reason the Packers are taking the Hundley-Kizer competition into the final week of the preseason stems from the shoddy offensive-line play they dealt with in Friday’s preseason loss at Oakland, where none of the five preferred starters up front played.

“It was a tough night for both quarterbacks particularly,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday. “It was probably from a protection standpoint as poor of a performance as we've had.”

Hundley was sacked twice and Kizer three times. Kyle Murphy, who started at right tackle and might have been considered the top backup offensive lineman, had a hand in both of Hundley’s sacks, one of which caused a fumble. He also was beaten on the first Kizer sack. And then came word Sunday that Murphy was dealing with an ankle injury. He was seen exiting the locker room with a walking boot on his right lower leg.

Murphy missed the second half of last season with a left-foot injury. Fellow backup tackle Jason Spriggs, who started on the left side against the Raiders, also finished last season on injured reserve, because of a knee injury. The three interior starters Friday, from left to right, were: Adam Pankey, Lucas Patrick and Byron Bell.

An early-camp ankle injury to starting left tackle David Bakhtiari and right tackle Bryan Bulaga’s rehab from last year’s ACL tear made it impossible to get any reps for the No. 1 line together in a preseason game. Both are expected to be ready for the Sept. 9 opener against the Bears, and the Packers still feel good about the their starting five, which includes guards Lane Taylor and Justin McCray plus center Corey Linsley.

But the backup situation remains muddled. Murphy was considered the top backup tackle going into Friday’s game. The Packers gave Bell a $500,000 signing bonus with the hope that would give them insurance at tackle, but after struggling on the right side early in the preseason, he has played more guard.

“Well, it isn't like it was just one thing,” McCarthy said of the protection problems. “You go through it [and] every individual had some things that didn't go very well. So I mean Kyle is injured, so we'll see how he is the next couple days; that was part of what he was dealing with. Actually I thought Spriggs played better. Lucas, he hadn't played a whole lot of center in games, but he did some really good things. It's just, unfortunately, there's positive plays to build off of, it's just the big plays that we gave up as far as the hits and the sacks and the penalties, and where you really don't get to establish a rhythm and be productive; we were able to accomplish that the first two weeks.”

The Packers haven’t committed to keeping two or three quarterbacks on the roster, but if Kizer were ready to be the backup, it’s possible they would move on from Hundley. However, if Hundley is the backup, then it’s hard to imagine them giving up on Kizer less than a year after they traded former first-round pick Damarious Randall to Cleveland for him.

Hundley has handled the No. 2 quarterback reps all summer and showed marked improvement from his nine starts last season after Rodgers suffered a broken collarbone. But neither McCarthy nor general manager Brian Gutekunst was willing to declare him as the opening-day No. 2.

It's hard to imagine the Oakland game helped them make a decision. While Rodgers sat, Hundley played the first half and completed 8 of 14 passes for 78 yards, with a long of 31 on a go route by Geronimo Allison. Kizer played the second half and completed 11 of 23 for 120 yards, with a long of 27 to rookie J'Mon Moore. Undrafted rookie Tim Boyle did not get any snaps under center.

“I thought Brett's start was probably the highlight of the night for us offensively,” McCarthy said. “He had four throws on that first series that were exceptional.

"DeShone is getting better. Tim didn't get a chance just because our reps were low for the first time this preseason. We'll definitely get him work in Kansas City.”

Though Kizer’s passer rating (88.8) through three games is higher than Hundley’s (81.3), his completion percentage (50.9) pales in comparison (62.2). Accuracy was a major issue for Kizer last season in Cleveland. But so were interceptions (a league-high 22), and he hasn’t thrown one yet in preseason.

The Packers aren’t likely to play any of their starting offensive linemen in Thursday’s preseason finale at Kansas City, so perhaps the best thing McCarthy and Gutekunst can evaluate Hundley and Kizer on is whether they can make something happen despite shoddy protection.

“It’s on us to make sure we’re doing whatever we can to execute, every time we get the chance to,” Kizer said.